The veteran Tory refused to apologise after widespread condemnation of his apparent suggestion that date rape was not “serious rape”, saying he had only set out how the law distinguished between different situations.
“If I caused genuine offence to anybody by explaining that long-standing factual situation, then I must have made a very poor choice of words, so I shall try to choose my words more carefully in the future,” he said.
The row began on Wednesday when Clarke was discussing a government proposal to increase the sentencing discount given to suspects who plead guilty early in cases from 33% to 50%, as part of justice reforms.
Concerns were raised that this would give rapists an easy ride, amid an already paltry 6% conviction rate for the offence. Although the maximum sentence is life, the average jail term is eight years.
Asked about sentencing during a radio phone-in, Clarke appeared to draw a distinction between date rape — involving people who know each other socially — and “serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman”.
Put to him that “rape is rape”, Clarke answered: “No, it’s not.”
He was confronted by a caller who said she was a victim of attempted rape, and who broke down in tears as she condemned the plans for discounted sentences, widely viewed as an attempt to cut prison numbers.
Women’s groups reacted angrily to his remarks and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband called for Clarke to quit, saying he “cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that”.
A spokesman for British prime minister David Cameron said he had full confidence in Clarke, but welcomed his attempts to clarify his comments.
Speaking outside his home yesterday, Clarke said: “I’ve always said that all rape is serious, and I’ve no intention of changing the sentencing guidelines on rape, which always attracts serious imprisonment, quite rightly.”